RL Interview: Allison Williams
By Kirsten Robinson
The breakout star of Girls sits down with RL to discuss her growth as an actor, personal style and more
Having grown up with NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams as her father, up-and-coming actress Allison Williams is no stranger to the spotlight. However, her impressive onscreen talent in HBO’s Girls is making Williams a household name unto herself. RL spoke with the rising star about her growth as an actor, her reflections on personal style and what her bright future holds.
RL: Why did you choose to pursue a career in acting?
AW: I knew I wanted to act before I knew what to call it. I just had this impulse that many actors talk about—this desire to jump into someone else’s experience and portray it. To play make-believe. And I chose to pursue it because I was supported by those around me to follow my instincts. I also couldn’t imagine a life doing anything else. I never had a back-up plan, and I feel like I can admit that now.
What sets you apart from other actors your age?
My specific life experiences. It’s the only unique tool each of us has.
What advice would you give to young aspiring actors?
These are the things I wish someone had told me: Follow your instincts; experiment with improv comedy; don’t copy anyone else’s performances; breathe; stop acting like what you think “acting” looks like; and have fun. Acting should make you drunk with happiness. Some roles are very serious and dramatic, but I’ve often found that the actors who play them are among the most spirited people around.
Also, embark on your own projects. Start cultivating your taste and voice, and write the roles you wish you were getting. It’s easier than ever these days with YouTube and Vimeo, but it’s also a completely legitimate way to break into this business. That’s what I did.
How did you explore acting while you were a student at Yale?
I majored in English, but I took some acting classes my freshman and sophomore years. I was always in plays, too. But the major influence was my improv comedy group, Just Add Water. I don’t think I would have gotten the part of Marnie in Girls if I hadn't studied improv. You learn to let go, to stop trying to control a scene. For me, that was a very important lesson.
You gained fame for your Mad Men–themed video. Where did that inspiration come from?
The inspiration came from my obsession with the theme song. I watched the whole series over the course of the summer after I graduated from college, which drove me to want to do a live music video with that RJD2 theme song. My friend and I got together to write lyrics, and he realized that “Nature Boy” fit perfectly within the song’s musical frame. I borrowed the costume from my high school costume department; the musicians were all friends of the composer; and the producer, cinematographer and director were people I’d worked with in college. It was a group effort, and it worked.
You wrote and starred in your own Funny or Die episodes, playing Kate Middleton. What compelled you to do so?
I wrote those accidentally. I had a meeting with Funny or Die right before the royal wedding, and a lot of people had been telling me that I looked like Kate Middleton. I mentioned that, and they said they wanted to do a few shorts about their marriage. I started jotting down ideas, which turned into a script. I thought that professional comedy writers would take my scripts and turn them into the real thing, but we just ended up shooting what I wrote. It felt terrifying and naked and exciting. It was the first and only time my writing has been used in a film. I respect writers even more after that; it’s a very personal way to put yourself out there.
How do you feel about moving back to New York so soon after moving to LA to pursue acting?
I love New York. I’m an East Coast girl at heart—born and raised in Connecticut. So I was very happy to come back, as much as I loved living so close to the Pacific. And I was so excited about Girls that I don’t think I could possibly have been upset about any logistics surrounding it.
“When I read the script, I heard myself in Marnie’slines. We’re not the same people, but I could relate toher; I wanted to breathe life into that character.”
Speaking of Girls, playing Marnie is your first major role. What drew you to this project, and to her character in particular?
Lena Dunham’s first movie, Tiny Furniture, and her pilot script for Girls both hooked me into the show. When I read the script, I heard myself in Marnie’s lines. We’re not the same people, but I could relate to her; I wanted to breathe life into that character. And I could also tell that the show was going to be something exciting. Lena is such a genius, and her eye is impeccable. I wanted to be a part of anything she did. I still can’t believe I got the part and I’m currently in my second year of playing her.
In what ways do you personally relate to, or differ from, Marnie?
We both like boundaries. We both like to make sure everyone around us is OK. We are both responsible, list-making, type-A organizers. Marnie is one deep breath behind me. She hasn’t had the luxury of introspection that I’ve had. As a result, she seems cold and uptight. She needs to look inward, find some passion and motivate herself. Also, she has a Blackberry. I have an iPhone.
How did you feel when you found out that Girls was picked up for a second season?
Bliss. Excitement. Gratitude. Like I am the luckiest girl on the planet.
What is the best part of your job?
Honestly, everything. I am never as happy as I am when I’m filming. Even in my most frustrated moments at work, I am happier than I would be doing anything else. I’m in love with my job, and I feel so grateful to have found my favorite thing to do so early in life.
What other types of roles and projects would you like to work on in the future?
Everything. I want to do comedy and drama, and I want to be able to look back on my career and think, “Wow. These characters are all so different.” I want prosthetics! I want major costumes! Character makeup! No makeup! Stage and film! I still like playing make-believe and dress-up, and I am so lucky that that’s my job.
How has your personal style evolved over the years, and how would you describe it now?
My style is still evolving. I would describe it as classic and simple. Hopefully elegant? There were some unfortunate style years; middle school is rough on everyone’s style. Braces just don’t match anything.
Who are your style icons, and how have they influenced your own style?
Grace Kelly. I just ask myself, “What would Grace Kelly wear if she were 24 years old in 2012?” That’s what I wear.
Do you have any favorite personal fashion moments?
At this year’s Met Gala, which was spectacular beyond belief and one long “pinch me” moment. I felt so beautiful in my gown—I still don’t know what to call that color, but it was stunning. And simple. It was made by an up-and-coming American designer named Ralph Lauren. Keep an eye on him. I think he’s going places.
Kirsten Robinson is an editor for RalphLauren.com.